It’s a funny thing to reminisce about the past — we can hold on to our memories and manipulate them in ways that allow us to remember them in either a positive or a negative light. A lot of us remember the Virtual Boy as a “failed” product pushed by the behemoth known as Nintendo, but what if we aren’t remembering the Virtual Boy for what it really was?
A piece of space-age technology that the world was simply not ready for.
It was the mid-nineties, and I was a kid awestruck by the majesty of video games; I could never get enough. Having a brother that is nine years older than me really helped to shape my obsession with video games, oh, and also having a knack of repeatedly defeating my brother’s friends in a fight to the death in Eternal Champions (challenge me sometime… you’ll see). But one day I was blown away by my brother’s best friend’s new toy, the VIRTUAL BOY. I had heard rumblings of this new piece of tech floating around the halls of my school, but back then the internet was still an uncommon luxury, and generally the only knowledge one would acquire about new games and systems was from gaming publications and hearsay around school.
The first question I asked my brother’s friend when I saw the out-of-this world red and black Virtual Boy sitting on the dining room table was: “is it portable like the Game Boy? It looks too big to carry around!”
He laughed a little and responded with “well…it’s not entirely portable, you have to play it on a table with the stand, but you can use batteries or an AC adapter. It’s kind of like a quasi-portable system.” I just shook my head in acknowledgement, but I had no idea what the hell “quasi” meant in my youth.
My brother’s friend told me to give the Virtual Boy a try, and my world has never been the same since. I leaned in over the table and plopped my face on the visor of the system and turned the power on. The first game I played was Mario’s Tennis, and when Mario hit the ball towards my face for the first time, I thought at that moment that video games could never outdo the “virtual reality” I was experiencing.
Let’s just say that I was hooked.
I can’t remember how long I played the Virtual Boy that day, but I eventually went home and told my parents about my adventures in the world of virtual reality. I saved all of my weekly allowance money in hopes of acquiring a Virtual Boy ASAP, and finally the day came when I was able to save up enough money to purchase one.
The next part of the story is considered a tragedy — well to me anyways… “I got caught slippin’,” as Billy and Jay from The Game Chasers would say.
By 1996 the support for the Virtual Boy was in such a horrible state that it pushed Nintendo to quickly introduce a price cut for the system. The new price for the Virtual Boy: $99.99 USD. Within the first year of its release, the Virtual Boy went from what was supposed to be a cutting-edge piece of hardware (according to Nintendo and their marketing campaign), to something that retailers looked at as a product that was taking up too much room on their shelves.
The reason why I was able to save up enough money for the Virtual Boy came down simply to the fact that Nintendo saw the end coming and introduced the price cut on the system, and if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have been in the position to purchase one. The slash on the price of the system did come with a slight boost in sales, and retailers started to reallocate inventory levels to help drive sales in higher volume stores. On the day I went to get my very own Virtual Boy, it literally came down to one single boxed system on the hauntingly beautiful, yet scarce shelf of the only store around my hometown that carried video games. It was as if the Virtual Boy was calling to me on that almost empty shelf, and I eyeballed that thing thinking to myself “you’re coming home with me.”
How wrong I was…
While I was browsing around the store, a young boy and his mother came in and purchased the system in what will forever seem to me to be the fastest transaction in the history of consumerism. I was simply too far away to stop and explain to them that I had “dibs” on the Virtual Boy sitting on that shelf. I literally was caught slippin’ on the acquisition of what I had already considered “my Virtual Boy.” I asked the clerk behind the counter with a sense of desperation if he had any Virtual Boys left, and he slowly looked down at me with what appeared to be a legitimate sadness in his eyes and told me that was the very last one; they were not expecting more shipments of it.
I learned a tough, tough lesson in game chasing that day: NEVER let anything in your video game crosshairs out of your sight.
My parents tried to track a Virtual Boy down for me for quite awhile, but every retailer within a road trip away from our home was sold out; we were simply just too late. Eventually when my birthday rolled around that year, I received this as a present because a woman that worked with my mother thought that it was even better than the Virtual Boy (the woman had bought her son one):
Allow me to reiterate the lesson I learned when I was a kid: NEVER let anything in your video game crosshairs out of your sight, or you might end up with a Tiger Electronics R-Zone!